Anaemia in dogs

Anaemia in dogs is a condition where the body does not have enough healthy red blood cells. There are many different causes of anaemia in dogs, including blood loss, immune-mediated disease and parasites. 

Anaemia can be life-threatening, so it’s best to get your dog checked by a vet as soon as possible if your dog shows any signs of this condition. It’s possible that dogs can recover from anaemia. Some may need life-long medication, depending on the cause. Anaemia can affect dogs of any age, but some causes are more likely at specific ages.



What is anaemia in dogs?

Anaemia is a condition where dogs have fewer circulating red blood cells and haemoglobin levels than normal. Red blood cells are made in the bone marrow and are then released into the circulation. Haemoglobin is a protein inside red blood cells that helps transport oxygen around the body.

In dogs, anaemia can have many different causes, split into 3 main groups: blood loss, increased destruction and reduced production.


Blood loss anaemia

A reduction in red blood cell number due to the loss of blood somewhere in the body. This may be very obvious, but some causes may be less apparent and more tests are needed to investigate.

Common causes:

  • Trauma or injury
  • Infestation of parasites, usually in large numbers, such as fleas, worms and ticks
  • Conditions or toxins preventing clotting of the blood, such as rat poison
  • Ulcers
  • Tumours that are bleeding


Anaemia caused by destruction of red blood cells

This type of anaemia is caused by conditions that cause damage and breakdown of the red blood cells.

Common causes:

  • Auto-immune disease: known as IMHA (immune-mediated haemolytic anaemia)
  • Toxins: such as onion, garlic, some plants, heavy metals
  • Infections: such as Babesia and Leptospirosis
  • Cancer


Anaemia caused by reduced production in the bone marrow

Red blood cells are produced by the bone marrow. Diseases affecting this production can lead to a reduced number of red blood cells.

Common causes include:

  • Cancer
  • Long-term diseases of the kidneys or liver and hypothyroidism
  • Nutritional problems, such as deficiencies in iron, copper and vitamin B and E
  • Bone marrow disease


Anaemia in dogs can also be called:

  • Regenerative, if the bone marrow produces sufficiently more red blood cells
  • Non-regenerative, if the bone marrow doesn’t produce enough red blood cells



Symptoms of anaemia in dogs

The signs of anaemia in dogs can be vague and also vary between cases as they depend on what is causing the anaemia. The signs also depend on the duration and severity of the underlying cause.

Common symptoms include:

  • Pale or white gums, instead of normal pink colour
  • Lethargy: sleeping more and reduced exercise tolerance
  • Reduced appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice (yellow gums and eyes)
  • Areas of skin bruising
  • Darker or black stools
  • Laboured and fast breathing


anaemia in dogs
Pale gums can be a sign of anaemia



Are some dogs more at risk of anaemia than others?

Puppies: higher risk of blood loss anaemia due to parasites such as worms and fleas

Travel: dogs who travel abroad are at higher risk of infectious causes such as Babesia and Ehrlichia

Elderly dogs: more at risk of cancerous causes of anaemia

Breed: at risk of IMHA include Cocker Spaniels, Poodles, Old English Sheepdogs and Irish Setters.



How is anaemia diagnosed in dogs?

The first step to diagnosis is a full physical exam with your local vet. Your vet will take a comprehensive medical history, and this is an extremely important step in diagnosis. There may be signs on the exam that indicate the cause of the anaemia too.

Further tests to help diagnose anaemia include:

  • General blood tests: to check red blood cell level and other organ functions
  • Blood smear: can determine if the anaemia is regenerative or not
  • Clotting tests
  • Urine tests
  • Stool tests
  • Biopsy of the bone marrow
  • Imaging – x-rays, ultrasound and further imaging such as CT


One of the most important blood tests is the PCV (packed cell volume) or HCT (haematocrit). Normal levels should be 35-55% in dogs; anaemia is when levels are lower than this. Extremely reduced levels will mean your dog will need a blood transfusion.


Vet treatment

What’s the treatment for anaemia in dogs?

Treatment of anaemia in dogs depends on the underlying cause. If the anaemia is severe, a blood transfusion may be needed. Other treatments include:

  • Surgery
  • Hospitalisation, including fluids
  • Immunosuppressive medications, such as steroids
  • Parasite control
  • Antibiotics
  • Chemotherapy
  • Bone marrow transfusion


Home treatment

How to look after a dog with anaemia at home

Any dog with anaemia will need to be seen and treated by a vet. It’s not a condition that can be treated solely at home. Once your dog has seen a vet, you can help at home by:

  • Giving any medication as advised by your vet
  • Allowing rest in a quiet and comfortable area
  • Making sure your dog is eating and drinking



Tips on how to prevent anaemia in dogs

Not all causes of anaemia in dogs are preventable but you can help by:

  • Regularly using parasite control that covers fleas, ticks and worms
  • Keeping your dog up-to-date with their vaccinations
  • Speaking to a vet before travel abroad to discuss how to minimise risks
  • Avoiding trauma such as car accidents by using an appropriate lead for your dog
  • Keeping toxins such as onion, garlic, and human medications well out of reach at home


Is my family at risk of catching anaemia?

Anaemia in dogs is not a zoonotic disease, meaning it doesn’t spread to humans. There are some underlying causes that can affect humans, such as fleas, ticks and Leptospirosis. Read more about these conditions through the links and contact your GP if you have any concerns.


When to worry

When you should be worried about anaemia in dogs

Seek help from a vet if your dog:

  • Is collapsed
  • Has white or yellow gums
  • Is suddenly losing weight

Call us and speak to one of our Joii Vets if:

  • You have any questions about parasite control
  • You have questions about preventing anaemia


Joii vets are available 24 hours a day for any concerns you may have. Download the app and call us now.

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